Originally published in March 2020:
The days are getting just a little bit longer, warmer and brighter, so take a break from the indoors and get outside to play! We’ve even snuck some learning into these ideas for outside fun with kids. Everybody wins!
Kids 4 and younger
Pom Pom water play. Fill an old tub (anything from a large tupperware to a kitchen bowl) with water and a few handfuls of colorful pom poms. Let the poms soak up the water like sponges (and if you don’t have poms, use actual sponges!), and kids can squeeze the water out, squish them together, and other calming sensory activities.
Water plants with the watering can. Or, if you don’t have a watering can, use an old yogurt container or mason jar. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how long children can be entertained by walking around the yard, deciding which plants seem “thirsty,” and rationing water throughout the garden.
Scoop and pour dirt. Another activity with minimal prep, you just need buckets and shovels, or even drinking cups. Find a spot in the garden with dirt (of course, sandboxes work great, too) and let the littles get as dirty as they please.
Ring Around the Rosie. Hold hands (wash first, of course) and sing this nursery tune until you all! Fall! Down! And then do it again!
Chalk letters. For fine motor development and literacy skills, this outdoor game is super fun and only requires two things; chalk and a spray bottle filled with water. Write out the letters of the alphabet (or numbers) all over the driveway, hand your toddler the spray bottle, and their job is to “erase” each letter as you say it by spraying it with water!
Backyard bug hunt. Or dinosaurs! Or any plastic animal set you might have in the toy chest. Have an older sibling do the hiding, or a caregiver can do it, and let the fun begin! Play “hot or cold” to give hints about the creatures’ locations, and collect them in pockets or a basket. Who will find the most?
Paint with water. Break out the painting supplies – rollers and paint pans work great – but leave the paint in storage! Instead, fill containers with water, and let children use the various brushes to paint onto the driveway, grass, lawn furniture, or whatever they choose. Older kids can practice letters and numbers using their paint brushes.
Outside fun with kids 5-9
Outdoor scavenger hunt. Depending on the age, you can have kids create their own list of items to find, or younger kids can simply point out interesting things that they see in the backyard (nature related) and say them out loud or draw them. Check out this nature scavenger hunt for ideas.
Chalkboard games. The opportunities here are endless! Practice handwriting, literacy, or math. Play Pictionary! Draw a game of Hopscotch and get the wiggles out. Play Tic Tac Toe or Hangman, or draw a picture of your whole family!
Rock spelling. Have fun collecting small, smooth rocks that fit into the palm of kids’ hands. Write one letter on each rock (paint pens are awesome and great for many projects) and spell out different words. Or, use pebbles and arrange them to create bigger letters.
Paint with nature. Use leaves, branches, and blades of grass as paint brushes, and water as paint! Kids will have a blast painting on lawn furniture, the patio, even the side of the house! Depending on the surface, the water will be easy or more challenging to see. Have a conversation about why that might be!
Rock Tic Tac Toe. Paint X’s and O’s on smooth rocks, draw a grid with chalk, and have some fun! For extra engagement, collect larger-sized rocks and play a GIANT game.
Erupting Volcano. Learn about chemical reactions. Find a good digging spot in your yard, create a small “mountain,” and dig a hole and place a plastic (think Solo) cup inside so the rim is level with the top of the mountain. Add a few tablespoons of baking soda. In a separate container, mix about a half-cup of vinegar with some food coloring (orange for lava!), and pour it into the cup for some explosive fun!
Outside fun with kids 10 and older
Wall ball vocab. Start with a category, like animals, and each time the ball bounces back to a player, they must come up with a word that fits into that category. “Lions!” “Tigers!” “Bears!” …“Ohh, no!” If a player can’t think of something, move onto the next category. Add to the challenge level by replacing simple categories with nouns, adjectives, pronouns, puns, similes, synonyms, antonyms, or whatever is appropriate for the age group.
Nature journal. This is a great opportunity for observational drawing and quiet time. Kids can quietly observe their surroundings and try to draw what they see. They can also use the journal to write thoughts and feelings, and help process what’s going on around the world.
Fraction sticks. Collect a few sticks that are all the same size, and break them apart to create “halves,” “thirds,” and so on. Put them together in different configurations and add the fractions together. Do they always make a whole? Why or why not?
Backyard Olympics. Using whatever you’ve got, take the obstacle course to the next level and fill your yard with Olympics-inspired games and events! Set up a bean bag toss station, a water bucket relay, or a balance beam using 2x4s in the garage. Break out the balloons for a balloon popping event, team up for wheelbarrow races, and finish with a game of dodgeball. Fun for everyone!
Have a picnic. Have older kids make lunch (don’t forget to wash hands!) for the whole family, and set up a blanket and other necessities outside. Take time away from screens to connect and talk about how everyone is doing. What’s something that each person learned today, or something new they tried?
Pitch a tent. Break out the musty tent from the garage (and let it air out, too!) and have bigger kids try and figure out how to set it up without any adult help! Then, bring out some pillows and blankets, and you’ve got a brand new cozy space and reading nook for the family.
More outside fun:
For more ideas, check out our Outdoor Games & Learning Pinterest page.
For more backyard learning, head to our Gardening Playlist for tons of fun ways to teach kids about the art and science of gardening.